Q: How do you filter all the invitations to invest that you receive? Do you focus on just a few issues? – Felipe Fleiderman V., Chile
In recent years, I’ve admired the speed at which some Web-based start-ups have launched their companies and found their customers.
After all, we at Virgin love to shake up stodgy industries, giving customers a better experience in unexpected ways, like redesigning our Virgin Money banks so that customers can work, hang out and hold meetings in the comfortable lounges.
With the help of my terrific investment teams in London and New York, I’ve invested in a few non-Virgin start-ups in recent years. Choosing among them requires thought and care, because no matter how qualified the founders are or how much they have thought through their business plan, most will not succeed. But, over the years, I have learned to look for the same things in start-ups that I do in ideas for Virgin companies.
The list of our investments shows what I value in a company, and why these inspire me. And for entrepreneurs seeking investors for their tech start-up, here are five questions you need be able to answer “yes!” to:
1. Does your company offer a smart, simple solution that improves customers’ lives?
If I understand a start-up’s product or service on first glance, then customers will too – and if it solves a problem that needs fixing, there’s a good chance that some will buy it.
That’s why I invested in Square two years ago. It’s a company that was started by the Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey when he was trying to help his friend, a glass-blower who wanted to sell his work but didn’t have a credit card machine.
Square’s system allows entrepreneurs to accept credit card payments via smartphone. The company says it now handles about $12 billion in transactions annually, and in 2012, it announced a deal with Starbucks, so that customers can pay for their coffees and other items using the Square Wallet app.
2. Is your company’s use of technology disruptive?
There are many companies that dress up their products by putting lights and screens on them, but don’t exactly make a difference to anyone’s everyday life. Such products may attract attention, but unless the technology adds easy functionality, the customers won’t be back a second time.
Hailo, the yellow taxi cab app, is a great example of a disruptive technology, since it’s so more efficient and responsive than our current options: trying to wave down a passing cab or placing a call to the cab company.
We chose to invest in this company because it lets passengers hail free taxis on nearby blocks with their smartphones. It helps cabbies too, since they spend about 40% of their time driving around looking for passengers.
3. Does your company offer customers greater choice and better access?
However small a company, its founders should try to expand people’s opportunities and choices.
The online coding tool Codecademy is giving anyone with an Internet connection the chance to learn basic programming skills for free. With its easy-to-use interface and lessons drawn from real-world examples, Codecademy is outshining the competition.
I decided to invest in Codecademy because many people need and will benefit from access to such skills, especially women who hesitate to enter such a male-dominated field – one in which most students tend to be men as well. Already, over 35% of Codecademy’s users are women.
4. Does your company’s product or service encourage customers to share their work or experiences?
The development of Web-based applications has enabled collaboration on a scale that was unimaginable 30 years ago. In almost every industry, more sharing is helpful and useful: between friends and family members; between colleagues, and sometimes between customers.
The best way to encourage sharing is make it fun, which is why businesses like Pinterest have found such success. This beautiful platform is all about inspiration and discovery, providing people with a quick, easy, entertaining way to share photos. It has rapidly become a household name – and inspired us to invest in their company.
5. Does your company care enough about people and the planet to use business as a force for good?
Every company can make a difference. New businesses can tackle local problems, growing businesses can tackle national problems, big businesses can tackle global problems. One example that stands out is Twitter, which activists have used to evade authoritarian leaders’ controls on communication – it has helped to topple governments.
I use Twitter to generate awareness for causes that are meaningful to me and others, like ending the war on drugs, and this is why I’ve invested in this company.
Similarly, we’ve funded Tumblr, which is one of the most popular Web destinations in the United States, and it also gives people a digital platform where they can express themselves.
These are just a few of the promising start-ups that have helped me to learn more about the challenges and opportunities faced by tech companies today.
Those that provide services that help entire communities may have built long-lasting businesses that will be influential for years to come. Does yours?
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3 Components Of The Perfect Elevator Pitch
Can you clearly demonstrate value when faced with a time crunch?
After filming two seasons of Entrepreneur Elevator Pitch, I’ve come to realise that there are three key elements to delivering the perfect pitch.
Our show is unique when it comes to pitching: Potential entrepreneurs have just one minute to pitch their idea, service or product. Those 60 seconds have added pressure because the contestants are being filmed, and they are talking to a camera (instead of people) while riding up to the penthouse suite in an elevator.
In real life, with a different set of distractions, it’s essential to know how to deliver a convincing elevator pitch. Whether you are pitching a product, a service or yourself, here are the three essential components in a pitch:
- Stimulate interest
- Transition that interest
- Share a vision.
Can you stimulate interest?
The first step, stimulating interest, is the most important. In fact, an “elevator pitch” is usually determined by the limited amount of time you have, and circumstances may only give you the opportunity to stimulate interest. If you do a good job of stimulating interest, this can yield a second opportunity, where you transition that interest and share a vision with those you are pitching to.
Keep in mind that people generally buy based on emotion, using logical reasons as their impetus for action. So, make a point to connect with them emotionally in order to stimulate their interest. Don’t be afraid to show your feelings; demonstrate high energy and excitement for your idea, business or service. Your passion and belief need to come through in your pitch!
Use the 100/20 Rule to your advantage: Have the energy that you are providing R100 worth of value and only asking for R20 in return. This attitude will generate enough attention, giving you the opportunity to transition the interest that you’ve garnered.
Make the transition
But people don’t buy exclusively on emotion. There needs to be some logic in the decision to make a purchase. Therefore, you must address some sort of pain, fear or guilt in your pitch, that those without your product or service may experience. And if you can illustrate how you (efficiently) solve a big problem, you’ll have more statistical success in your elevator pitch.
Making a genuine connection can help you transition interest. Learn to make yourself equal, then make yourself different.
Simply having connections to the same people or a point of similarity in your backgrounds will help bridge the gap with those you are pitching. Then you can emotionally connect, following that up with the logic portion of your pitch.
Transition the interest you’ve generated with a clear explanation of what differentiates you. Build credibility by discussing your sales, distribution, revenue, awards and/or successes. All of these different ways to “attract” allow you to segue from emotion to the logical reasons to buy.
Of course, it is of the utmost importance to be honest when you are pitching. The truth always comes out, so ensure that you aren’t over-promising with your pitch. Don’t create a void that you are unable to fill.
What’s your vision?
Finally, in order to excel when sharing a vision, you need to have a value proposition that backs the 100/20 Rule. Make the value that you bring to the table as clear as possible. The value you’re asking for in return also needs to be clear. If you don’t display confidence in what you’re asking for, you won’t instill confidence in those you ask.
Tell others exactly what you want, why you want it and what you’re willing to give in return. You should have already proved your valuation when transitioning interest, then reiterated that valuation as you progressed in the pitch.
Take the people you are pitching through the reasons why you can be of value to them, the impact that you can have on their life or organisation and the capabilities you (or your product/service) possess that makes working together beneficial for all involved.
Practice your pitch, then get rich
After following each of these three steps, close with one simple question to gauge whether you are aligned or not: “Can you see any reason you wouldn’t want to move forward?”
If you utilise your pitch to stimulate interest in your product/service/self, transition that interest, then share a vision with those you are pitching to, the answer is almost always a resounding “no.”
And if you get objections or rejections, so what? Address whatever objections there are and if you still can’t get aligned, that’s OK. Take the perspective that the universe has a set number of rejections you need to get to before you find the right partner.
Related: How To Pitch
Be grateful for an opportunity to prove others wrong, and believe that if you keep working on your pitch, product, service or self, everything will come to you in the right way at the perfect time.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Questions On Finding a Funder To Managing Your Staff
What you really need to know to land an investor.
Focus on one customer at a time. Make that customer happy. Move to next customer. Aim for ‘1 000 true fans’, then keep them happy.
The rest will come.
1. How do I find an investor?
You have 4 options:
Applicable if you only have an idea, and you need cash to make your idea a reality. Usually between R500 000 and R1 million. You need to milk your network: Parents, friends of parents, colleagues, parents’ friends, friends. If you have no network, you need to build a network or use your savings. There is no math to these investments. You get money because they believe in you, not because they seriously expect a return.
2. Early-stage VC
Applicable if you already have a working product with traction, ie: users and/growth, and you need cash to build out. Usually between R1 million and R2,5 million. There are a number of early-stage VC’s in South Africa, just ask around. Knife Capital are amongst the best. Ideally you want an introduction from a trusted party. Failing that, just email them directly. Give a simple pitch. They’re looking for 15X return on investment.
3. Late-stage VC
Applicable if you have a critical mass of users and meaningful revenue, ie: R10 million a year, and you need cash to grow. The late-stage VC’s are the likes of 4Di, hard to get access without an introduction from a trusted third party, usually one of your existing investors. They are looking for a 5X return on investment.
4. Private equity
Applicable if you have a cash-generative business that requires capital to either exit a shareholder, or to grow profits exponentially. Looking for 25% IRR.
There are also state-sponsored sources of capital for entrepreneurs from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, for example the Technology Innovation Agency. This is ‘soft’ money, requiring no equity or personal surety. If you can get it, take it.
Investors are looking for return on capital. If I invest R100 in an early stage company, I want to get R1 500 (15x) back within a reasonable period of time, ie. no longer than five years.
The key metric is Total Addressable Market (TAM). The size of the market you’re targeting determines the potential size of your business.
Assume you target a market with a TAM of R100 million (profit), and you assume you can get 10% of that market by 2020. That means your business will have R10 million of profits in 2020.
A private company is valued at a maximum of 7x profit, so your company will be worth R70 million in 2020. If you ask me to invest R1 million today, I need 21% of your company in order to realise a 15x return (R15 million) by 2020.
Start with TAM, work from there. Remember, every assumption you make will be questioned. Minimise your assumptions. Maximise the evidence for your assumptions.
2. If you are a start-up, what’s the most important thing you can do to grow?
Focus on one customer at a time. Make that customer happy. Move to next customer. Aim for ‘1 000 true fans’, then keep them happy.
The rest will come.
For consumer products, always make it easy for your customers to share. Friction-free sharing is the easiest marketing tool you can have.
Feature-creep is a big risk and can be a big distraction. You need one single value proposition that is enough to get customers. Having fifteen cool features will never compensate for the lack of one killer use case.
3. Our staff is growing, more than 20 now. Any tips on management?
Having four or five staff is not hard. You don’t need to be a good manager or leader. You can muddle along. It’s when your team starts growing past the twenty number that management becomes a skill rather than a word.
There are hundreds are articles written on the art of management, but Jack Welch (former GE CEO) broke it down to this:
- People want to know who they report to.
- People want to know how they’re being measured.
- People what want to know how they’re doing.
- That’s it.
- One boss. Clear KPIs. Regular feedback sessions.
Alan Knott-Craig’s latest book, 13 Rules for being an Entrepreneur is now available.
What it’s about
It’s easy to be an entrepreneur. It’s also easy to fail. What’s hard is being a successful entrepreneur.
For an entrepreneur, there is only one important metric of success: Money. But life is not only about making money. It’s about being happy.
This book is a collection of tips and wisdom that will help you make money without forgoing happiness.
Get it now
Do you have a burning start-up question?
XPRS Capital Africa Bridges Funding Gap Faced By South African SMEs
XPRS Capital Africa answers local SMEs call for funding.
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are a vital component of the South African economy. However, there is a substantial portion of the country’s estimated 650,000 SMEs that have no access to funding to assist in their continued growth
In response to an increase in demand for reliable and easily accessible capital for businesses like these, XPRS Capital Africa opened its doors in South Africa. The specialist business funding provider is geared towards rapidly vetting and approving short-term business funding ranging from R50,000 to R500,000. In addition, XPRS Capital Africa specialises in extending funding to SMEs that may not qualify for funding from traditional lenders.
Simon Leps, CEO of XPRS Capital Africa explains that XPRS Capital has its roots in the US, having been founded in 2013. “The company is a renowned and established alternative online business-to-business lender. Together with a team of data scientists and using thousands of data points, XPRS Capital has developed a proprietary credit vetting algorithm and packaged product set.”
“The technology and approval processes developed by XPRS Capital has a massively successful track record overseas and the experience that our company has gained over the years will help many more SMEs in South Africa to reach their potential,” says Leps.
“The XPRS Capital platform has processed over $1b worth of loans and has a proven track record of funding thousands of businesses across hundreds of industries,” he continues.
Leps adds that the company’s sophisticated algorithm allows XPRS Capital Africa to provide funding to many South African SMEs that are usually denied loans on the basis that their owners have less than ideal credit records. “Traditional lenders are often reluctant to lend capital to SME owners whose credit histories place them in higher risk categories. This has created a massive challenge for many promising SMEs. At XPRS Capital Africa, we focus on the health of the SME, and use state-of-the-art technology to provide businesses the cash flow they need to grow and flourish.”
Using the unique algorithm that we have optimised for the South African market, we are able to accurately assess any SME that has been in business for over a year, to rapidly provide a 3 to 12-month funding solution, notes Leps. “The online application takes less than 10 minutes, allowing SME owners to spend less time filling in forms for funding, and more time on their business.”
XPRS Capital Africa provides funding directly, working closely with SMEs to offer the fastest approvals, best possible repayment terms and most accurate risk profiles for any business.
“Cash flow is the lifeblood of every single business. Our mission is to provide this quickly, affordably and reliably,” Leps adds.
He notes that, given the high number of businesses that have trouble accessing financing, SME owners should also know how to maintain their own positive credit records. Thereby they can ensure that their businesses have access to as many options as possible.
“Ensure that all areas of your company are looked after to the same degree as most funding providers want to see that all aspects of a business are well managed. Up to date, audited financial statements and management accounts, well managed bank accounts, and good budgeting and forecasting show that the owners are attentive. Owners also need to know their businesses inside and out and be able to answer questions about their cash flow and deal pipeline.”
Related: The Investor Sourcing Guide
In addition to this, Leps says that the customer’s experience when dealing with the business could also have a measurable impact. “Any touchpoints that are available to your customers will be looked at by potential funders, so all customer facing assets should look professional and be kept up to date. This goes for websites, online portals and social media accounts.”
“The ability to access additional funds when your company needs it is the key to long-term survival. That’s why it is paramount to maintain the best possible credit record. However, it is also important to remember that, whatever the financial state of your business, business owners are never completely out of options,” Leps concludes.
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